Westerville City Schools is taking steps to move its schools towards becoming trauma-informed and resilience-focused spaces, starting with a series of trainings this year that equip educators and school staff with tools to better understand and support students.
“It is a strength-based, hopeful approach rooted in the universal principle that, to be emotionally healthy, all youth need a sense of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity,” said Tami Santa, the district’s Director of Mental Health & Wellness.
As part of an overall plan to eventually have all staff trained in trauma and resilience, the Mental Health & Wellness team launched monthly trainings this year — including one on Monday. Staff across the district were nominated to form a Champions of Resilience (CORe) that includes 55 teachers, mental health specialists, administrators, school resource officers and operations staff.
Once CORe members complete the 5-course series, the group will be a mix of Certified Trauma Practitioners, Trauma and Resilience Coaches and Trauma and Resilience Trainers that can help train Westerville staff in the Trauma-Informed and Resilience-Focused mindset.
Santa said the overarching goal is to equip all staff members with a shift in mindset involving regular practices that promote a school setting of safety, connectedness, empowerment and healing.
The district’s trauma and resilience journey began almost 10 years ago. Many of the school social workers have been trained to be Certified Trauma Practitioners (CTP). Through that training, there are opportunities to move schools toward being Trauma-Informed and Resilience-Focused schools, Santa said.
During the 2020-21 year, the district received a grant to train four CTP members to be trainers in this model: Santa; Jessie Martin, the district’s Mental Health Facilitator; Sheila Ebbrecht, a district mental health specialist and Noelle Spriestersbach, a district mental health specialist.
Once trained, the Mental Health & Wellness team developed a long-range plan to train all staff members over the next three years in the basic course in trauma-informed resilience-focused schools.
“Westerville City Schools' five-year plan toward a district-wide trauma and resilience approach is instrumental for our students' success,” said Nicole Wermert, school counselor at Heritage Middle School who is a CORe team member. “As a counselor and educator, supporting the whole student should be the priority of our district.”
“Many of our students have experienced trauma, are continuously exposed to trauma, or are living in states of toxic stress,” she said. “Trauma is a full body experience. It physiologically impacts the brain and the body. It would be a disservice to our students to not consider this impact as part of their struggles and successes. The good news is, as educators, we have the ability to positively impact students who have been impacted by trauma and to use strategies to create safe learning environments for all students.”
“I hope as we continue with this journey we can educate all Westerville staff with simple and easy ways to grow resilient-focused mindsets and meet students where they are for the success of our community.”
Monday’s training, “Healing Trauma and Restoring Resilience in Schools,” was the fourth in the five-session series and focused on topics such as the brain science of trauma and toxic stress, trauma and resilience on health outcomes and practical tools to improve resilience in students.
Amy Van Sickle, a counselor at Huber Ridge Elementary, said the trainings have covered the foundational components of what all children need as well as the areas that have been found to heal past difficult experiences. During Monday’s training, CORe members received a guidebook full of powerful activities that educators can use with the students to support their sense of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity.
“I already have plans to use one of the joyful activities in my monthly guidance lessons at Huber Ridge this month,” she said.
Azalea Tang, social worker and mental health specialist at Westerville Central High School, said the main takeaway from the training was that all educators can have a positive impact on increasing student resilience by being thoughtful about relationships and inclusive spaces.
“It was great to witness the cross-disciplinary conversations happening amongst staff who are all dedicated to bringing trauma-informed practices to our schools,” she said. “I walked away from the training with concrete activities to do with students that target areas of self-esteem, sense of belonging, and body-based stress reduction.”